Scottish Government draws fire for party postponement advice

Discouraging customers without offering financial support is “unsustainable”

THE Scottish Government has drawn fire for encouraging people to cancel Christmas parties – or at least defer them until the new year – without offering any support to affected businesses.

The first minister today (10th December) endorsed advice issued by Public Health Scotland, advising the public to defer Christmas parties until another time in order to prevent spreading the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“The public health advice – which I have no alternative but to agree with given the evidence of risk that I know about and have now shared with you – is that we should all think a bit more carefully about unnecessary contacts, especially in crowded places just now,” said Sturgeon.

“And that it would be sensible to defer work Christmas parties.

“Now I know this has a big impact on businesses which is why we are considering – and pressing the UK government – on financial support.”

Sturgeon later said that reimposing trading restrictions on hospitality premises “will be a last resort”.

Andrew McRae, Scotland policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said the first minister’s statement “will send shockwaves through Scotland’s small business community”.

“Local firms are more vulnerable now than they were at the start of the crisis because many have exhausted their cash reserves and others are weighed down with debt,” said McRae.

“It is unsustainable for policymakers to put smaller businesses in a vice by discouraging their customers while not offering them any financial help.”

That was supported by UK Hospitality Scotland’s executive director, Leon Thompson, who said businesses are now “experiencing hourly increases in cancellations”.

“Rather than the next few weeks being a time for businesses to try to recoup income ahead of a lean January and February, they are left counting the cost of battered consumer confidence, which leaves them having to make refunds, count the cost of no-shows and struggling to pay suppliers,” said Thompson.

Stephen Gow of the Chester Hotel in Aberdeen said the advice will be “catastrophic for a sector which has already faced so much hardship since March 2020”.

“The mixed messages during the week, the announcement by Public Health Scotland yesterdays and today’s First Minister statement are effectively a closure of the hospitality sector – once again – at their busiest time of the year without any financial support,” said Gow.

“Statements like ‘it would be sensible to defer Christmas parties’ essentially mean ‘don’t’ but do not amount to government regulation, meaning there’s no financial support for businesses.”

And Scottish Beer & Pub Association chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said it is “a very, very worrying time for businesses and their staff”.

“If we are going to avoid mass redundancies in the sector, we require immediate, meaningful economic support to be announced now,” she said.

“We cannot allow thousands of staff to be fearing for their livelihoods like this, especially at this time of year.”